The Atlanta Symphony Hall rocked with a “Night of Georgia Music” on Sept. 29. There were too many ovations to count and the slightly beyond middle aged crowd stayed on its feet for most of the performance. Mike Mills, of R.E.M.,Chuck Leavell, who has performed with Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones among many others, and Robert McDuffie, world class violinist and founder of the McDuffie Center for Strings at Mercer University, were the headliners.
The crowd went a bit crazy with the dueling violin and piano of “One Way Out,” a tribute to the Allman Brothers Band. Other musicians recognized were Gladys Knight, Brook Benton, Ray Charles, James Brown, the B52s and R.E.M. Otis Redding was singled out as sexy soul singer and songwriter. The performance reestablished Macon and Athens as the Southern rock, rock ‘n’ roll and music capitals of Georgia.
“Midnight Train to Georgia” and “Rainy Night in Georgia” brought the audience to tears and to its feet. The guy next to this writer hugged his wife or main squeeze and said, “Those songs were popular when we were popular.” The University of Georgia law graduate next to my wife admitted that he went to law school while majoring nightly in R.E.M. Everyone hearkened back to younger days by remembering the early ‘70s to mid-’80s. Those were heavenly music years experienced in smoky places, on the radio and rented apartments throughout the South — and across the nation. Everyone was “trying to make a living and doing the best I can.”
McDuffie played the violin with his whole body and soul while rocking across the stage between Leavell and Mills. The classical violinist who lives in New York City brought smiles to the faces of Southern rockers who spent 90 minutes reliving funky, hazy days in college. Mills served as master of just a few ceremonies, bass guitarist, pianist, and music director for the trio. Leavell may be a serious tree farmer but he is still known throughout the world as the best keyboardist ever!
The trio was backed by several Athens musicians and Ward Stare leading the McDuffie Center undergraduate students. After the intermission, a concerto was presented composed by Mills, who accompanied on base guitar and piano. The audience was grateful for the music and drifted into the mood as lights played over McDuffie and Mills. Toes were tapping and hips were shaking most of the night. There was just a moment during “Georgia on My Mind” that this writer saw Ray Charles and the Raylettes drift across the stage! What a hot, rocking night in Atlanta.
Half of the crowd was from or connected to Macon. Carlyle Place even provided a bus to the event for parents who celebrated the music with their sons and daughters.
“Night of Georgia Music” moves on to fortunate audiences in Birmingham, Alabama, and Washington, D.C.
Richard E Hyer is a Mercer University graduate and former superintendent of the Georgia Academy for the Blind. He now lives in the north Georgia mountains.